By Wil Moser
There is a certain tradition in theatre, which is known by almost every production company across the world. After a long day of rehearsals or performances, once the last actors and crew members leave the theatre for the night, a single active light is brought into the center of the stage and left alone until the next day of performances matches its nightlong gleam. This tradition is known as the ghost light. Under the fainting flame of collaborative visions on stage, this light has been pushed to not remain turned off and moved offstage for the next performance to take place. The unrelenting shroud of the pandemic has left this ghost light burning consistently way beyond the typical night across the United States for the past eleven months. Superstitions in the world of theatre tell that the ghost light allows for the ghosts of the theatre to perform safely.
When walking into a theatre, one may expect the atmosphere to be a bustle of excitement. The auditorium is packed with patrons and audience members finding their seats, catching up with old friends, reading through the elegant playbills produced by the theatre company, and ostensibly waiting in line for the restroom. The curtain is drawn in front of the stage, with props and set pieces strewn about the raised platform. Backstage, actors and crew alike scurry about, with ten minutes until showtime. Nowadays, most theatres are abandoned buildings, only partially visited by custodians to sweep and keep tidy.
Without theatre, many actors and theatre workers have been without their art for quite some time. AJ Gates, an acting student at Cape Cod Community College, weighs in on the lack of theatre in the pandemic. “When the pandemic began, no acting classes were held online. Then again, it’s hard to act in front of an online class.” Gates was most recently seen as the lead role of Christopher in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime at the Tilden Arts Center on campus. He has since moved to Arizona for the winter for work to support his family. “As of now, there’s no acting gigs available whatsoever. If there was an opportunity, of course I would take it.” In the meantime, Gates has been reading constantly to keep his wit strong, reading books such as On Acting by Sanford Meisner; How to be the Greatest Improviser on Earth by Will Hines; and How to Stop Acting by Harold Guskin. “The closest I can get to acting now is by reading,” Gates continues. “Yes, the pandemic has affected what I want to do, but I shouldn’t stop there.”
Theatres across Cape Cod are eager to re-open. Chatham Drama Guild [CDG], one of the oldest and most prestigious theatres standing, had been planning on a performance of Leading Ladies by Ken Ludwig when everything had shut down. “We continued to have zoom rehearsals,” said Pam Banas, the artistic director, “until it became obvious that a production was impossible.” That did not stop the CDG from trying to bring joy to the Cape. “In the fall and again in December,” said Banas, “we tried to do a musical review. This was intended to provide some performers with stage time and an audience to give them a chance to do something besides go to the grocery store.” At that time, Governor Baker and the Chatham Board of Health disallowed these performances, even with all the precautions the cast and crew would take. “The plan had been to use 2 performers with plexiglass between them,” said Banas, “and a pianist all socially distanced with masks. We would take the temperatures of audience members- who would enter one group at a time- and given out hand sanitizer… But this was not to be.”
When asked about the quality of life during this pernicious pandemic, both for herself and the theatre, Banas responded: “The pandemic has been difficult in so many ways. The isolation has been difficult, and the arts have suffered with a lack of income… I think that audiences and performers have been home and will be clamoring for things to do. Because we can change the seating set up… we will be able to accommodate the state rules and regulations while singing and dancing our way to some kind of normalcy… The Guild will survive and thrive when it’s all over. We can’t wait!”
In lieu of opening right now due to regulations set in place, Banas told of the Guild’s plans to help the local arts survive. “We are currently planning to release one song a week [through social media], performed by our talented performers, to bring some attention to us and our mission. This will be done in connection with our annual appeal.” That’s not all that CDG has in store. Banas opened up about their plans for performances as soon as they reopen. “The Guild will reopen as soon as the Governor allows us to. We plan for a musical review, a family musical in the late summer, and to get Leading Ladies back on the schedule for 2021.”
Although this pandemic has taken away so much of what is considered normalcy, seeing people involved in the arts, inspiring themselves and others, is noteworthy. It produces a light that shines bright even in the face of adversity. One might say it is more fervent than the ghost light as the passion for performative arts is deathless. Although the stage may look empty right now, there is always some activity beyond the naked eye.